Injury of peripheral nerves may quickly induce severe pain, but the mechanism remains obscure. We observed a rapid onset of spontaneous pain and evoked pain hypersensitivity after acute transection of the L5 spinal nerve (SNT) in awake rats. The outburst of pain was associated with a rapid development of spontaneous activities and hyperexcitability of nociceptive neurons in the adjacent uninjured L4 dorsal root ganglion (DRG), as revealed by both in vivo electrophysiological recording and high-throughput calcium imaging in vivo. Transection of the L4 dorsal root or intrathecal infusion of aminobutyrate aminotransferase inhibitor attenuated the spontaneous activity, suggesting that retrograde signals from the spinal cord may contribute to the sensitization of L4 DRG neurons after L5 SNT. Electrical stimulation of low-threshold afferents proximal to the axotomized L5 spinal nerve attenuated the spontaneous activities in L4 DRG and pain behavior. These findings suggest that peripheral axotomy may quickly induce hyperexcitability of uninjured nociceptors in the adjacent DRG that drives an outburst of pain.
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